And In The News, September 25

There is no doubt in my mind that Hermit Island has more cock-and-bull stories associated with it than any other island of the Apostles chain.

I suspect that nineteenth century yarn-spinners were embellishing the Hermit’s story before his body was cold, posthumously turning the impecunious barrel maker into a wealthy recluse. Over the years, more myths were added: one rich hermit was not enough for some- there had to be a second one years later, and then a British army detachment massacred by the French- or was it by Indians?- and God knows what else. Today, you can search online and find claims about not one, but several treasures, all buried by chance on this one tiny island. Right. How conveeeen-ient!

And then you have this former tour boat guide, who thirty-one years ago today had the decency to come clean about his fibbing, albeit in “Wasn’t I cute?” manner:

Bayfield County Press, September 25, 1980

Notes From the Horn

Roger O’Malley

…We sailed past (Hermit) island every day for four seasons and I found it necessary to change my stories regularly to suit the customers and my own imagination.

If any listeners believed me they went home with a tale of stolen gold from the Confederate Army or from a Mexican gold mine, or from General Custer’s paymaster who escaped the massacre and one time it was cash stolen by Jay Gould from the Erie Rail Road and in turn stolen from him by a trusted secretary.

The lady, who was supposed to have walked away from our hermit and made him a recluse, was at different times a Broadway star, a Metropolitan singer, a princess from Bavaria or some such place, and one time she turned out to be a queen from Bourbon Street in New Orleans. …..

You get the picture.

The sad thing is that you can go to Bayfield today and pay money to hear equally spurious nonsense: “ghost stories” and such with no basis at all in local tradition, concocted simply to make a buck.

I object to this not only because I am a historian, and so by training place value on accuracy, but also because the genuine stories of the Apostle Islands and the Chequamegon region are compelling enough as it is. Making up your own “local legends” and foisting them off as authentic does a disservice to the real men and women who endured and achieved so much in this land.

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